Hydropower is renewable

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 24, 2013 07:28 am

Some people don’t much like the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River, but even a dam-hater has to admit that the power those dams produce qualifies as “renewable.”

Certainly there’s no reason to believe the mighty Columbia is apt to stop flowing.

Yet according to a law the Oregon Legislature passed in 2007, the Columbia’s hydropower isn’t renewable. That law requires large utilities — our local Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) isn’t included — to get at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

Just three utilities are large enough now to fall under that mandate — PacificCorp, Portland General Electric, and the Eugene Water and Electric Board.

But a fourth — Umatilla Electric Cooperative — could reach that threshold by 2016. And Umatilla officials are vowing to go to voters with an initiative that would change the 2007 law, and qualify Columbia hydropower as renewable, if the Legislature doesn’t do so first.

We agree with the Umatilla Co-op, and we urge OTEC to lend moral, if not financial, support to the campaign to fix this poorly conceived law.

We understand that lawmakers and some other state leaders want to promote other types of renewable power, including wind and solar.

But the former, thanks in large part to massive taxpayer subsidies, is already a growth industry in Oregon, even though wind power is much more expensive than hydro.

Perhaps the silliest aspect of the law is that power from any new dams would count as renewable, even as the massive output from the Columbia dams doesn’t. That’s an unnecessary double standard, and for ratepayers a potentially expensive one.